402px-A_Roll_of_Toilet_Paper

I’ve have a few interesting experiences from this past big recession that are neither unique to me or really all that shocking so I thought I’d blog about it to no one.  Specifically when companies face financial hardship they make…interesting…decisions.

One recent experience was that company missing its revenue targets responded by getting rid of the ice machine in the break room and cutting back on janitorial services.  Mind you the garbage piled up in the break room was annoying, but the real issue was the bathrooms which ran out of paper products and became rather horrid after 200+ people used them all day.

Another company responded by removing alternating light bulbs in the hallway florescent lighting and turning the air conditioning down.  Keep in mind, in Arizona it can get a bit warm during the summer, so that matters.  I suppose they thought by removing the light bulbs they would reduce the heat they produced and thus would need less AC.  I’m not sure about the heat balance formula, but it didn’t work.

The money that was saved by these executives was completely inconsequential when compared to the loss of productivity of people who now pretty much gave up on the company and spent their entire days looking for new jobs and complaining to each other.

I wonder what the executives who made this decision thought about the consequences of their actions.  Did they really think that no one would notice or care?  It reminds me of the recent comment the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps (top non-commissioned officer) Micheal Barrett made to Congress that Marines cared more about better equipment than pay and that lowering pay raises would “improve discipline”.

I’m not entirely sure what Sgt. Maj. Barrett what was trying to say, and I don’t feel the need to even write about his half-hearted “clarification”, but it certainly makes him look like he couldn’t care less about the people below him.  Certainly every Marine out there had that opinion.  Likewise when executives at the aforementioned companies made their decisions they are basically saying we don’t care about how this affects anyone because everyone will just follow my orders and that’s all there is to it.

The problem of course is that people are…people.  We have emotions, feelings, fears, hopes and dreams.  The biggest mistake leaders can make is to ignore this and pretend that they can simple cause things to happen by edict and that every decision is compartmentalized and that taking out the ice machine will save $1,000 for the company and that will go straight to the bottom line.

So why this on a BI blog…well, because BI is about more than the bottom line.  One of the first things BI professionals should understand is that numbers mean things and that while they reflect human behavior they do not directly cause it.  They certainly influence the decisions people make, but people are complex creatures and you can’t pretend that they won’t react the decisions you make in unexpected ways.

The solution of course is to treat your employees as a part of the solution and not just a cost.  If instead of cutting off the lights in the hallway the company instead put out a series of KPI’s and asked employees to help design solutions for moving the needle on them?  Rather than cut the toilet paper supply off, put together a gamification model for increasing cash flow?  If the best idea to save money the CEO came up with is to cut the AC then perhaps we’ve identified the actual problem!

So help me out, I’m on the only one seeing these things?

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